The DTC growth playbook typically is about product development. From mattresses to sustainable sneakers, gourmet pet food to hyper-comfy socks, the formula is familiar: start with an attention-grabbing offbeat or artisanal take on a familiar category, and then expand the portfolio to “own” a whole category. Former mattress makers are now “sleep brands,” with catalogs of linen, pillows, beds. Find new ways to up- and cross-sell a diversifying product mix to your core loyalists and create new entry points for new customers. Rinse and repeat. Athletic Greens is notably different, in that focusing on a single product, its AG1 nutritional drink powder, is key to its growth strategy.
CMO Matt Carrington joined Brand Insider recently to explain the rationale behind this deliberately narrow focus around a few SKUs that themselves iterate and improve over time. Matt is no stranger to DTC nodels. He previously led marketing at the custom frame company Frame Bridge and at Curve Mobility. You can listen to the entire podcast at this link.
MediaPost: My main exposure to the brand is through podcasting. And I have heard the brand evolve from Athletic Greens to AG.
Matt Carrington: Last year, we changed the core product name. We used to call it Athletic Greens Ultimate Daily, which was also just a bit more of a mouthful. In switching to AG1, we were looking for something that could drive a bit more differentiation between the parent brand and then the core product itself. Also, as we would look to roll out additional products which we will do in the future, It will allow us to drive a bit more differentiation. But we also subscribe to this idea in both brand building and the way we treat our customer that we call essentialism. So it's trying to drive as much impact with as few options or choices as possible. And so just really minimalizing that product name down as simply as possible to AG1 was something that we felt was a real cornerstone of the brand that we were building.
MediaPost: Let's drill a little bit into this strategy behind having such a narrow set of products. Most of the DTCs that we cover and speak at our Insider Summits emphasize product development, expanding the brand, aspiring to own entire categories. Mattress companies suddenly want to be the masters of all things sleep and relaxation. Why is your brand clearly taking such a different route.
Matt Carrington: I’d say it starts with our founder Chris Ashenden. He is a master of this product and nutrition in general, a lifelong student in the game. He's also very customer-centric. He set out to empower people to take ownership of their health. Some DTC products, especially in our category, they seek to own the category. We seek to solve the customers’ problem. And so it's a different approach but what it begets is that we have, I feel, a much more disruptive model within DTC. We're not looking to grow by adding on an aggressive amount of follow-on products. We're looking to grow by solving some core customer issues as easily, quickly, and seamlessly as possible. We know from our customers that there's really no such thing as the perfect diet. Life gets in the way. And then, even if you are able to do it, the nutritional value of our food is not as dense as it was 50 and definitely not 100 years ago. So that's the customer challenge that we see.
You could walk into a CVS and see the supplement aisle, and there are thousands of options, and they're all confusing, or you could look to solve a customer problem in a much more streamlined and essentialist way. Which is, let's give them one solution that solves the large majority of the problem, which is people aren't getting enough nutrients. Then let's be able to go build a brand around that, and consistently make that product better.
So at the very center of our brand system is that we continually update that product based on the latest science. So adaptogens are a perfect example, we've made improvements to our adaptogen mix over the last several years, based on the science. We could easily roll out just a little adaptogen as a supplement that's a standalone. But we chose to add that value back into the core product because it's easier for the consumer.
MediaPost: But that creates then a marketing challenge. You need to grow through new customer acquisition, which all DTCs find is the costliest way to grow,
Matt Carrington: Yep, it's a great call out. And our growth is very much driven by two things, by being able to acquire customers, and then being able to retain them. The usage of our product, which is meant to be taken every day to provide compounding health benefits helps to ensure that from a business model perspective, subscription, it's built around retention. So the ability to continue to grow with our customers is there as long as our product is able to go solve the customer’s challenge. We can talk about retention but from an acquisition perspective that is continually our challenge.
I’d say, it's a marketing challenge but I also think it's a huge brand building opportunity. , because as a DTC, and I see this a lot in the direct-to-consumer scene. A lot of brands have to grow through continued product marketing, and so you're never really able to define that higher level of who you are as a brand, where you fit within the consumer’s lifestyle, their general psyche, how you develop connections with them. And because we really have this one core product, it creates a lot of white space for us to be able to go play with our customers in developing more content that they can use to go drive their health journey. That's pinned on using AG1 day in, day out, developing a deeper relationship with them, building a sense of community. So I look at that as our huge opportunity, knowing that we need to have a strong foundation to sell the product and bring people in. But it also creates a lot of opportunity for us to go to a lot more than some of our DTC brethren would be able to do so.
MediaPost: Let’s start with acquisition. What have been the key growth drivers for customer acquisition for this brand?
Matt Carrington: It’s an outcome on good and deliberate strategy, but also it’s an indictment of the broader supplement space. Supplements have been pegged to retail in the consumer mind for the last 40-50 years. They would grow in a retail model by being able to push out low-quality, high margin products, and that's a key thing in the space. If it's going to be high margin, it needs to be for the consumer low-quality. And then, what a company would turn around do is basically say, what else can we sell to go maximize our twelve or eighteen square inches of shelf space. But because of that retail focused approach and the low-quality aspects of the product this is a category that suffers historically from a lack of trust on the part of the consumer. With an industry with a deficit of trust, we have an opportunity to lead with trust, and that starts with recommendation.
So we have really seen a lot of growth by building our marketing program around panels that are recommendation-first. A key one there would be podcast, which you mentioned, also, looking at what I would call more of a micro-influencer that would hold smaller communities, 1,000 to maybe 10,000 people. Those have really been the core channels where we've been able to both drive brand awareness and that acquisition factor.
We built a team that embeds very deeply with all of these creators, makes sure that there's someone that wants to be on that health journey, educates them deeply about the products, and then works with them to make sure that they can tell a story about their own personal health journey when they're talking about Athletic Greens. And so all of that is helping to both breed a sense of trust and authenticity which shows through. We definitely know, we can tell when one of our creators hasn't been using our product, because it just doesn't read as well where I should say it just doesn't hear as strongly when you're listening to their read. But that's a really intensive team approach to be able to go build that relationship. And everything that we've layered on top of that for more of a paid digital marketing perspective and then bringing on more traditional advertising channels - that sort of creator-led recommended heavy piece is the cornerstone of everything that we've done.
MediaPost: Is that the creative essentially, you're using in these other media channels? Or do you have other messaging?
Matt Carrington: Yeah, if it makes sense. That's always the dream. Can we then leverage this and get more juice out of the squeeze to be able to go and use it in other channels? Sometimes it's just not as clean of a fit, so if we can do it, we will do it. There's definitely opportunity into the brand building environment to find the creators that are the best representatives of your brand based on whether it's authenticity or scale, or just the conversation that they've been able to have with their audience. And then take them, and rather than just re-cut their audio feed, their video feed to be able to serve in other channels, what we'll then do is take them and say, we'd like to further the relationship here, and bring them under our own production tent and create some specific content that's going to be a bit more organic and just more authentic for other channels that we'd be looking to go push that out in.
MediaPost: What traditional media channels are you using then?
Matt Carrington: We've been able to build programs around direct mail, TV, which is a blend of linear and connected. We've done some traditional audio, and radio. We've had a lot of success with a few other home programs in some of our key cities. We're fairly well rounded across the board and being able to stand up those programs to pair with, everything that we've done from a digital perspective which would be a lot of the usual suspects when you look at, obviously search and Meta, and now TikTok emerging.